Origin back in 2008
Wednesday, June 13 2007 @ 08:25 am ACST
Contributed by: Brett Northey
As we hinted back in January, the Australian Football League seems likely to bring State of Origin football back in 2008 as part of the 150th celebrations for the early foundations of Australian Football. The series was once the pinnacle of Aussie Rules, with exciting, high standard matches surpassing the quality of any state league and with no international opposition it represented the best the sport could offer (though premiership success was still every player's ultimate goal). For various reasons it withered away and was finally ended. However support is on the rise. AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou has publicly stated his enthusiasm for the concept, and a pre-season survey of AFL captains was also very positive, adding to growing media and public calls for a return. Not everyone is in favour of it, but momentum for the series is gathering quickly and unlikely to be stopped. Here we'll look at the various recent opinions on bringing back Origin. Later we'll examine the history of interstate competition, why Origin died and why the push for it again.
A comeback of State of Origin has clearly been on the agenda, if not officially, for some time. In fact in the minds of many fans it never truly went away. However 2008 sees the 150th anniversary of significant events in the early days of Australian Football - notably a call by Tom Wills for clubs to be established and a prototype match between Scotch College and Melbourne Grammar. The AFL has chosen 1858 as marking the beginning of footy as we know it. Obviously the Australian game has roots going back much further, as do all the footballing codes that share a common heritage. However choosing a year to mark the beginning is important in recognising how long the sport has been played, provided people don't think that there were no roots of the game before 1858. And of course it's a good excuse for a party which will, if done right, enhance the feeling across all of Australia that this is truly our indigenous historic sport. As part of celebrations the AFL is obviously looking for major events and a return to the elite Origin series is a likely contender. With the International Rules hybrid-series against Ireland still in limbo, Origin also gives the AFL an event it can plan for with certainty.
Demetriou was reported on the Realfooty website as saying "Yes, I want it to happen. From a personal perspective, I'd bring it back. I know the players want it and we’ve certainly got a terrific opportunity next year to make it happen in our 150th anniversary". He indicated that plans will begin shortly, "I think the coaches who don't support it are in the minority now. We've already got a number of scenarios in mind and we’ll probably create a subcommittee from within our executive to start working on the logistics. But the only way it can work is if the players picked play. We don't just want the players who put their hands up. We believe we have the support of the clubs, but we would probably have to make it clear that any player withdrawing would be ineligible to play the following week for their club".
Essendon coach Kevin Sheedy also threw his weight behind the concept, suggesting any coaches not supporting it for fear of losing their star players to injury would be being selfish. He also pushed AFL clubs to get behind the idea, "The great times you can have playing for your state are still there. I think the coaches have got to lift their act and the clubs themselves. I think the clubs are probably a bit selfish. To be quite honest, when you played yourself you felt it was one step in the next direction of lifting the bar as a performer yourself".
Just about every football identity has had their say, with very few against the idea, though some have reservations depending on the format. It seems the debate has quickly moved from not if it will happen but how and when. The most regular matches used to be Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia playing off amongst themselves, with the other states not always playing, or featuring in a second division or combining as the not particularly popular Allies conglomerate. Fremantle's football operations manager Robert Shaw is a strong supporter of Tasmania's inclusion and said he would take the issue of their representation to the AFL Commission. Many great players over the last century have come from the Apple Isle but it has increasingly been sidelined as its population as a percentage of Australia's total continues to shrink and it has been overlooked for an AFL side on the basis of economics. "This will be a celebration of 150 years, the past," Shaw was reported as saying on Fox Sports. "The significance of Tasmania's contribution to the game is, per capita, as significant as any of the major states", and he clearly was angered by the prospect of Tassie missing out. Similarly Brisbane Lions chief executive Michael Bowers said Origin should include a Queensland side - not a combination such as with arch rival in most walks of life, New South Wales.
Fremantle coach Chris Connolly, a former country Victorian, was also keen to get across a different concept. He wants to see two Victorian sides - metropolitan and country, much like occurs in the Australian Under 18 Championships, where the split sides are still very powerful. "We often debate this at our match committee, and the Victorian Country team would have Jonathan Brown, Barry Hall, Scott Lucas and Fraser Gehrig" (obviously Freo selection isn't too strenuous so the coaching staff move on to fictitious Origin sides!). "It would be a fantastic team, and on the flip-side, the Vic metro (would be strong)". See Divide Vics in Origin: Connolly in The Australian. "I think coming from Vic country, we didn't like the Vic metro people too much, but it would mean you have two games," Connolly said. "South Australia would play Victoria and Western Australia could play Victoria. Don't think if Vic metro played Vic country (in a final), that all the country people wouldn't be filling up the MCG."
It was also noteworthy that a poll on Realfooty had well over 1000 votes (at time of writing) with nearly half of all voters saying Origin should return annually, and with just 16% saying never. Around 70% said they would attend the series. It seems the the public has regained some passion for it, the players are mostly behind it, the AFL CEO certainly is, and the coaches are coming around. You can almost be guaranteed Origin will return in 2008.
See also our own Origin poll (while the poll is still open you can vote in the poll window in the right side of the screen).